Q: Did President Barack Obama in 2009 have a journalist named Brenda Lee removed from Air Force One?
A: No. Lee, a newspaper contributor, was physically removed from a press area outside the aircraft in Los Angeles — before Obama arrived.
Was journalist Brenda Lee from Georgia, physically removed from Air Force One in 2009 by Obama’s order?
The action triggered an outcry from the journalism community, with many media organizations, including Fox News, signaling support for CNN’s legal challenge to the White House’s decision. Days after a judge temporarily sided with CNN, the White House fully restored Acosta’s press pass — and the cable network ended its lawsuit.
But the episode also prompted some to share a now viral meme that distorts an incident involving a newspaper contributor that happened during President Barack Obama’s tenure — which many readers have asked us about.
“This is Brenda Lee, a journalist from the Georgia Informer being physically removed from Air Force One in 2009 by Obama’s order,” the meme claims. “She didn’t grab anyone like Jim Acosta did. Brenda was removed for being Pro-Life.”
That’s not what happened.
While the photo in the meme is indeed of a woman named Brenda Lee being carried out of a press area at Los Angeles International Airport, Lee was not aboard Air Force One (which can be seen in the background). And, according to the Associated Press’ coverage of the incident at the time, Obama did not arrive at the airport to board Air Force One until about 10 minutes later.
As the AP reported, Lee — who identified as a Catholic priestess and wrote columns for a monthly publication then called the Georgia Informer — said she wanted to give Obama a letter urging him “to take a stand for traditional marriage.”
After a Secret Service agent denied her request to give it to the president, the agent referred Lee to a White House staffer and Lee refused to give the letter to the staffer, according to Lee’s account. Lee said she was escorted outside the gate and then briefly allowed back in before ultimately being told she had to leave. Despite her attempts to protest, video shows, security officers picked her up and carried her from the press area.
Whether or not Lee had White House-issued press credentials — and had that access revoked, as the meme insinuates — isn’t clear. At the time, Lee told the AP that she did have White House credentials; in another interview she said she had a press pass and was authorized to be there. Lee died last year. Her obituary described her as a contributor to the Georgia Informer and Savannah Herald. The Trump White House did not respond to our inquiry, and the White House Correspondents Association said it would not have such a record.
What we do know is that the assertion that Lee was “removed from Air Force One in 2009 by Obama’s order” is unsupported. There is no evidence that suggests she was on the plane, or that Obama had her removed.
That’s not to say Obama had no issues with journalists. We’ve previously written about the Obama administration’s battles with the press — including surveilling a Fox News reporter and a willingness to exclude the cable network from some interviews.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.
Hoag, Christina. “Kicking & Screaming: Journo Dragged From Near Air Force One.” Associated Press. 13 Jul 2009.
Kiely, Eugene. “Obama, Fox News and the Free Press.” FactCheck.org. 13 Sep 2018.
“Priestess Brenda Slater Lee | 1950 – 2017 | Obituary.” Hart’s Mortuary and Crematory. Accessed 21 Nov 2018.
“Trump clashes with Acosta in testy exchange.” CNN. 8 Nov 2018.